Stitches Card Game – Exclusive Interview with Jason Rankin from Norwester Games!
MEEPLES – Jason Rankin, Norwester Games
In a world where as much as 300 campaigns are in the tabletop section of Kickstarter alone, it can be challenging to have your game stand out and hit your funding goals, especially when there are higher profile games cluttering up the system. But that doesn’t stop Jason Rankin of Norwester Games, who currently has Stitches up on Kickstarter and is successfully funded. We sat down with Jason to talk more about his background, Stitches, and how to be successful on Kickstarter.
Bubbles: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Jason. How long have you been
designing games now?
Jason Rankin: We got started about three years ago. My partner Doug [Brinbury] travelled to Ireland for about six months, and would pass the time by working on a game, and when he got back he ask me if I would join him in that endeavour. That game ended up being Conduct, which we are still working on. We submitted it to Pax South 2015 and got it in as part of the indie showcase. We finished a prototype and brought it there, and we’ve been going ever since.
B: What can you tell us about Stitches?
JR: Stitches is a monster-building game. You are the abandoned thesis project from Frankenstate University, left to fend for yourself in the dark woods, and you are scavenging in the woods for upgrades to your parts or attacking your fellow monsters to take their parts. And ask you’re attacking other players, you are learning language and building teams to take on the abomination to win the game and be king of the monsters.
B: So Stitches is not your first game, but you’re starting out with Stitches. Why is that?
JR: Stitches was an idea at PAX Prime last year, and heard from a bunch of people that starting small was the right idea, and since Conduct was a larger scale RPG storytelling game with miniatures, we decided it would be wise to just start off with a card game an go from there. We’re also learning about how do you produce minis and find someone who does 3D printing stuff, all the things that come with producing a much larger game. Since we’re doing Kickstarter and manufacturing for the first time, that’s easier to do with a card game. And it’s a lot easier as a first time designer to ask for $20 for a game instead of $80 or $100.
B: Have you guys done any game designing before? What attracted you to game designing?
JR: No, we’re fresh! Doug is a math tutor on the side and I’ve stated working at a startup recently, so we’re both new to this. But we are gamers, we love gaming, and wanted to try our hand at designing. For me, I’ve really enjoyed stretching out my creative muscles more, so learning how to design a game as well as learning different creative programs has been really enjoyable.
B: How did the game evolve from its idea to the physical game? How much playtesting was
JR: Stitches started out as a spaceship game where you’re building spaceships and you’re taking pieces off other ships and putting them on your own ship. But that theme felt a little tired at that time, and it felt a little too close to Galaxy Trucker. So we changed it to monsters, only to discover well into the design there are five or six other games that also have a similar theme of monster building.So we had the idea for the game about a year ago, and we had a prototype within a month and started playing it with our group of friends and started refining it from there. The first con we showed it at was either OrcaCon in January or Emerald City in April. From there it was a lot of public testing and getting people to respond to it, then getting people to play it multiple times to see if their strategies change when they know the rules. A couple things have evolved in the playtesting. One being the use of language in the game, where you add words to your vocabulary when you attack other players; that originally started as a separate path to victory. We did not have the abomination you team up to defeat; you either become strong enough or smart enough to win the game. That idea wasn’t a very satisfying ending to the game, as there wasn’t enough interaction between the players. So we added the abomination, but you couldn’t defeat the abomination with language, but we really liked the players saying ‘kitty’ or ‘grump’ in a monster voice, so that’s how we came up with the team up idea. What’s interesting from that is when we played it with more hardcore gamers, they found it was not cutthroat enough for them, they wanted a clear winner, not a two or three-person team winning the game. So we’re implementing a points system post-kickstarted so that there is a final winner at the end of the game.
B: So these changes came from the playtesting and the Kickstarter campaign?
JR: No comments from the Kickstarter community. But some of the reviewers made some comments that coalesced over the course of the Kickstarter as we’ve been pondering how this would work. But these are relatively minor tweaks, the core gameplay is there and we’ve tested it at multiple cons with multiple gamers, we’re very satisfied with it.
B: Looking at Kickstarter, which has become such a beast in the gaming community, with as
much as 300 campaigns going on at the same time. First, why Kickstarter? Why not another
JR: It’s where the audience is, really. If you want to reach the gaming audience, Kickstarter is the best place to do it right now.
B: Obviously it has been a good experience for you since you’re funded, and congratulations on
that. Are you satisfied with the Kickstarter experience?
JR: Yeah, it’s been great! There has been a lot of engagement, no so much in the comments page, but we’ve got a lot of private messages from people. We’ve reached out to every single person who backed the game and quite a few of them wrote back with with questions or comments or suggestions, which have been great. We’ve also did a survey for stretch goals to see what monsters people wanted to have included in the game.
B: So it’s interesting to note that your game is not the only game on Kickstarter that has a monster-building theme; there was in fact two other games, one of them being a highly publicized monster-building game that was funded in minutes and crossed $2mil. Obviously there are differences between your game and the others, but they do share some similarities. Do you find that frustrating when you’re trying to stand out and hit your funding goals? What do you do to stand out?
JR: So we have thought about standing out on Kickstarter, but we haven’t thought about standing out against similar games; we were not expecting that. But, first and foremost, building your audience ahead of time is key, because you need to hit that 20%-30% funded in the first couple of days of your campaign or else you’re not going to get funded. So having that email list of people we starting building since GeekGirlCon here in Seattle a couple of years ago was
helpful. And we were lucky of have very supportive friends and family that contributed pretty early on, and then reaching to reviewers and press to build some awareness from that. But even more important was reaching out to the browsers of Kickstarter. Someone did a survey a while back that asked what is the biggest reason why you back something on Kickstarter, and they found the two top reasons were the art on the game and professionalism of the page; if
you’re professional enough to build a page that looks good, then you’re probably professional enough to deliver the product. It’s basic marketing concepts but is also something a lot of first time designers don’t think about.And we did a few different things to build awareness. We were trying to do social media on a
regular basis, and I will say I don’t think we’re the best at social media, but we do what we can. We are friends with Jerry from Penny Arcade for about fifteen years now and went to college with his wife, and of course have gamed with him before, so we played Stitches with him, and he liked it and was willing to give us a little shout out on his page, which was awesome! We also reached out to reviewers and did some interviews. We did look at advertising on Board Game
Geek and other sites, but consensus showed they were not driving enough traffic to the Kickstarter page. So what I’m seeing with Kickstarter is half of the traffic you get is direct referral, so email lists and our own Facebook and Twitter posts, about a quarter of it is from Kickstarter via browsing, and the rest is miscellaneous.
B: If you wanted to give someone advise on being successful on Kickstarter with a board game,
what would that advise be?
JR: First of all, make sure the game is great. Play your game with a whole bunch of people in a whole bunch of different places, play it with designers, play it with hardcore gamers, play it with new gamers, and use those experiences to find your core audience, and make sure the game works for them. Then, build your audience. Go to cons, interact with the gaming community. And if you’re going to launch on Kickstarter, make sure you know what you’re doing. So go and read Jamey Stegmaier’s posts, go and read James Mathe’s posts on the process, join the Facebook groups, and understand what it is you’re getting into, because it is not easy to build a campaign, and it is not necessarily a fun process to figure out of the logistics of the campaign.
B: So you have Stitches successfully funded and you’re working on Conduct right now. What else do you have on the horizon?
JR: We have a couple of things in the early stages right now, but for now we are really excited to get back to working on Conduct and to build that into a game we can launch on Kickstarter or pitch to publishers.
B: Great! As for the future, do you plan on mixing it up with big and small games or do you plan
to focus one one or the other?
JR: I think the answer is we’ll continue to build games that fit our aesthetic, which is games that has everything laid out in front of you and has no back end rules you have to refer to. And we like distinctive art styles, so we’ll continue to reach out to artists and build those relationships. And we like games with a sense of humour.
B: Awesome, thank you for your time, and good luck with the rest of the campaign!
JR: Thank you!
Jason Rankin is the co-designer, along with Doug Brinbury, of Stitches, the first game from Norwester Games, now fully funded on Kickstarter and will finish it’s campaign on November 16, 2016. The game is expected to deliver to backers and be available for purchase summer 2017.
We look forward to this and other games from Norwester Games.
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